SEC basketball report:

UK goes on run without Calipari

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Tuesday, January 5, 2021
Kentucky head coach John Calipari, left, confers with an official after being tossed out of an NCAA college basketball game against Mississippi State during the second half in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Jan. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Kentucky head coach John Calipari, left, confers with an official after being tossed out of an NCAA college basketball game against Mississippi State during the second half in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Jan. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

FAYETTEVILLE — It didn’t take Bruiser Flint long to get his first action as acting head coach for Kentucky.

Flint had to swing into action after Coach John Calipari was ejected at the 9:04 mark of the second half after arguing with officials at Mississippi State’s Humphrey Coliseum on Saturday.

Much like Kentucky’s response after Cal’s ejection at Arkansas last season, the Wildcats rallied to post a 78-73 win in double overtime against the Bulldogs.

The win snapped the Wildcats’ six-game losing streak, their longest in nearly 100 years. It also extended Kentucky’s record to 15-0 over Mississippi State under Calipari.

Calipari was given two technical fouls and booted with Kentucky trailing 52-46 after a made jumper by Mississippi State’s Iverson Molinar. Jalen Johnson made 3 of 4 free throws after the ejection to extend the Bulldogs’ advantage to 55-46.

The Wildcats, as has been their pattern after Calipari ejections, got improved play after his dismissal. Freshman Dontaie Allen hit a three-pointer 18 seconds after the incident to trigger a 10-0 run by the Wildcats.

Asked in the postgame about Kentucky’s pattern of playing better after Calipari ejections, Flint laughed and said, “You want Cal thrown out every game?”

Then he added, “That usually happens in most instances with teams, not just Kentucky. … They regroup. They get themselves together, and they usually go on a run.”

Speaking on his radio show Monday night, Calipari said, “In most cases when I get tossed, it changes the fight in my team. I’m not going to get thrown out a bunch of games. If I see things I think need to be addressed, I’m not afraid [to get tossed].”

Things certainly turned in Kentucky’s direction under similar circumstances last year at Walton Arena, when Calipari was ejected with 8:19 remaining in a 44-44 game against Arkansas.

Guard Mason Jones made 3 of 4 free throws after the double technical to give Arkansas a 47-44 lead, but the Wildcats went on a 17-2 run with assistant Kenny Payne calling the shots to take control at 61-49 with 2:42 left.

Calipari was also ejected during games at South Carolina in 2014 and 2016, with the Wildcats losing in the first instance and winning in the second.

Keyontae on bench

Florida guard Keyontae Johnson, who collapsed face-down on the court on Dec. 12 and spent 10 nights in hospitals, returned to the bench for the first time in Saturday’s 83-79 win over LSU at Exatech Arena.

Johnson, a preseason All-SEC selection and projected first-round NBA Draft pick, fell while walking back to the court after a timeout during the Gators’ 83-71 loss to Florida State in Tallahassee, Fla. He received emergency medical treatment and spent two nights in the hospital in Tallahassee before being airlifted to UF Health in Gainesville, Fla., where he spent the next eight nights.

The Gators postponed their next four games against North Florida, Florida Atlantic, Florida A&M and James Madison, then resumed 18 days after Johnson’s collapse with a 91-72 win at Vanderbilt on Dec. 30.

Johnson suffered a covid-19 infection over the summer, according to media reports, and the Gainesville Sun has reported Johnson had acute myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart that health experts say is a rare side effect of contracting the virus.

Rolling Bama

Alabama is aiming for sole possession of first place in the SEC in tonight’s home showdown against Florida after taking down league favorite Tennessee 71-63 on the road Saturday.

Alabama used a 17-4 run early in the second half to beat the No. 7 Volunteers for its first road win over a top 10 team since beating No. 4 Mississippi State 77-73 on Feb. 21, 2004.

Alabama guard John Petty Jr., an SEC co-player of the week, needs 10 three-pointers to take the school’s career record over Brian Williams (1996-99), who made 263.

Top players

The SEC office announced Monday that Alabama guard John Petty Jr. and Florida forward Colin Castleton were league co-players of the week, and Kentucky’s Dontaie Allen was the SEC freshman of the week.

Petty, a 6-5 senior from Huntsville, Ala., averaged 15 points and 6 rebounds and shot 61.1% overall and 63.6% from three-point range in a pair of wins. He scored a game-high 17 points, including 4 of 4 shooting from three-point range, in Alabama’s upset of Tennessee.

Castleton, a 6-11 junior from Deland, Fla., averaged 22 points and 5.5 rebounds and shot 78.3% (18 of 23) in a pair of wins, including 11-of-13 shooting at Vanderbilt.

Allen, a 6-6 guard from Falmouth, Ky., had 23 points and five rebounds in the Wildcats’ win at Mississippi State, including 7-of-11 shooting from three-point range. Allen had played 20 career minutes before logging 32 against the Bulldogs.

4th for Mizzou

Missouri recovered from its 73-53 home loss to No. 7 Tennessee by holding Arkansas to 26.8% shooting in an 81-68 win Saturday at Walton Arena.

That performance gave the Tigers their fourth Quadrant 1 win of the season, tying Gonzaga and Houston for the NCAA lead in that department.

Gonzaga is 4-0 in games vs. Quadrant 1 competition, which is defined as home games against teams in the top 30 of the NCAA’s Net Rankings, neutral site games against top 50 opponents, and road games against top 75 opponents. Missouri and Houston are both 4-1.

Tennessee is 2-1 vs. Quadrant 1 competition, while Alabama and Florida are 1-1 and Georgia has yet to face a Quadrant 1 opponent.

Arkansas and Georgia are among 10 SEC teams without a Quadrant 1 win. The Razorbacks are 0-1 in those games, as is Ole Miss, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt. Auburn is an SEC-worst 0-3 in Quadrant 1 games, while Kentucky and LSU are 0-2.

Milestone

Mississippi State Coach Ben Howland notched his 500th career victory in a 68-51 win over Texas State on Nov. 30.

The 25th-year head coach joins Michigan State’s Tom Izzo and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski as the only active coaches with three consecutive Final Four appearances.

Howland went 79-59 in five seasons at Northern Arizona (1994-99), 89-40 in four seasons at Pittsburgh (2000-03), 233-107 in 10 seasons at UCLA (2004-13) and is 103-70 in his sixth year at Mississippi State.

“I’ve coached so many great players, so many great kids,” Howland said after win No. 500. “I told our team after the game the biggest thing that I feel blessed about is that I’ve found something that I love to do. I’ve been doing it my whole life. That’s what you have to find as a person, is whatever it is that you love and that you’re passionate about, to make that your life.”

Last to play

South Carolina will be the final SEC team to open conference play with its scheduled home date against Texas A&M on Wednesday at 8 p.m. (ESPNU).

The Gamecocks canceled or postponed five consecutive games after getting covid-19 testing results back Dec. 12, including their scheduled SEC opener at Kentucky on Dec. 29. South Carolina (2-2) resumed action with a 78-71 win over Florida A&M on Saturday in its first home game of the season.

RANK; NET; TEAM (RECORDS); COMMENT

1; 3; Tennessee (7-1, 1-1); Starters shot 32.7% in home loss to Bama

2; 22; Florida (5-1, 2-0); Only SEC team shooting better than 50% (.506)

3; 10; Missouri (7-1, 1-1); Strong bounce-back win at Bud after home loss

4; 23; LSU (6-2, 1-1); SEC’s second-highest scoring team (85.9)

5; 36; Alabama (7-3, 2-0); Often lives and dies with 3-point shooting

6; 24; Arkansas (9-1, 1-1); Toughness in question, shoved around by Mizzou

7; 62; Ole Miss (5-3, 0-1); Shooting an SEC-worst 33.8% in league play

8; 97; Texas A&M (6-2, 1-1); Emanuel Miller top SEC shooter (60.9%)

9; 144; Kentucky (2-6, 1-0); Stunning 1-6 pre-conference record

10; 86; Georgia (7-1, 0-1); Tied with Arkansas for SEC steals lead (9.0)

11; 76; Auburn (6-4, 0-2); Making an SEC-best 10.3 3-pointers per game

12; 113; Miss. State (6-4, 1-1); League-leading 37.9% 3-point shooting

13; 103; South Carolina (2-2, 0-0); covid-19 issues hampered early season

14; 177; Vanderbilt (4-3, 0-1); Scotty Pippen Jr. 2nd in SEC scoring (22.6 ppg)

The NCAA instituted in 2018-19 a rating system called the NET Rankings, which took the place of the Ratings Percentage Index. An acronym for NCAA Evaluation Tool, the NET rankings take into account game results, strength of schedule, game location, scoring margin, net offensive and defensive efficiency and the quality of wins and losses. This set of rankings is the first of the 2020-21 season.

Game of the week

Florida at Alabama, today, 6 p.m. (ESPN2)

A well-scheduled battle of the SEC’s only 2-0 teams will go down in Coleman Coliseum. Florida opened 3-0 before losing Keyontae Johnson in an 83-71 loss at Florida State. The Gators paused for 18 days before opening SEC play. Alabama has won three in a row after a loss to Western Kentucky.

By the numbers

8 | Consecutive wins at Alabama by Florida heading into tonight

9 | The highest rank of an SEC team (Tennessee) in this week’s Associated Press top 25 poll

10 | Nights spent in the hospital by Florida’s Keyontae Johnson after his collapse to the court Dec. 12

15 | Consecutive Florida points by Colin Castleton to open the second half vs. LSU on Saturday

Discussion

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